Last week’s brush with Hurricane Arthur (which meandered along the east coast of Florida before making landfall in costal North Carolina) served as a reminder that hurricane season is here and is only just getting started. It has been quite a while since Central Florida has been struck directly by a hurricane – ten years to be exact. With that many years since our last hurricane strike, it is easy for us to lose sight of the potential impact these storms have on our lives, especially far inland away from the coast.
For those of you who were not living in Central Florida to experience the infamous 2004 hurricane season, I will recap: Florida was hit by four hurricanes that year — all in a matter of weeks!
Being the weather enthusiast that I am (ok, maybe weather geek is more fitting), I was fascinated by the 2004 hurricane season and remember it well. Many of us (including myself) were caught off-guard by Hurricane Charley — the first storm to arrive that year (and it sure packed a punch!). Charley was forecasted to strike near Tampa (or possibly even miss the state completely) but instead made a last minute turn and beelined towards Orlando.
In the wake of Charlie, I, like most of us in the general Orlando vicinity, was left without power for several days. As inconvenient and miserable as that was, in hindsight it seems insignificant compared to the significant damage others sustained to their homes. I was fortunate that my apartment only sustained minor roof damage (which did not initially affect me). Many Central Floridians fared far worse.
But Mother Nature wasn’t done with us yet. What none of us knew at the time was that there were still two more back-to-back hurricanes in store for us!
While the wind damage was fortunately much less for most of us than what Charlie produced, the torrential rainfall from the next two storms — Hurricanes Frances and Jeanne — was a huge problem. Both storms crossed our peninsula at agonizingly slow speeds. And with virtually no time to recoup in the wake of Charlie’s wrath, the Central Florida area was once again paralyzed by a deluge of soaking rains, windy conditions and even isolated tornadoes, resulting in significant flooding, substantial home damage and additional loss of power. Not surprisingly, these conditions shut down schools and businesses for several days a piece (in some cases many weeks).
Even for a weather aficionado like myself, the fascination wore off quickly as the full impact of the aftermath set in. It was during Frances that rain water began to drip from my apartment’s living room ceiling (the roof was damaged during Charlie but could not be repaired in time for the next series of storms that struck next). The water damage I sustained was fairly significant, saturating areas of my ceiling and carpet. Fortunately, I was able to rescue most of my belongings, and with the help of family and friends, my life returned back to normal fairly quickly.
Unfortunately, others did not fare as well. Many in nearby areas sustained far worse damage, their lives turned upside down for weeks or months to come. Some residents in the area waited weeks or even months for power to return, repairs to be made, and in some cases, to get the proper help and/or find a new home after being displaced.
While it’s often hard to find the positive in the wake of such disaster, there is often a silver lining. It brought our community closer together and taught us the lesson of taking tropical systems seriously (even as far inland as Orlando), dispelling the myth that residents of inland Central Florida are completely sheltered from these storms and need not prepare for hurricanes.
If the last ten years are any indication of the future, there will be plenty of quiet times ahead. But as we learned when Hurricane Charley caught Central Floridians completely off guard, it is important to expect the unexpected by taking a little time at the beginning of each hurricane season (which runs June 1 through November 30 of each year) to familiarize ourselves with emergency plans and take simple common sense steps to prepare for when (not if) the next tropical cyclone pays Central Florida a visit.
The point is certainly not to freak out or worry about things beyond our control, but rather to prepare where possible and know how and where to find help and information in case it is needed. To that end, now is a good time (before we are faced with a direct hurricane threat) to stock up on supplies and familiarize ourselves with important resources and planning measures such as Barry’s emergency alert system and storm monitoring page. Furthermore, there is a plethora of excellent hurricane preparedness guides available from local news stations and government agencies (including the National Hurricane Center) that are very informative and helpful. Several of these are referenced at the bottom of this post, along with links to additional resources containing more details about the wild 2004 hurricane season.
Barry University’s storm monitoring/updates page:
Barry University’s emergency alert system intranet page:
Hurricane guides and preparation (various web resources):
Florida Division of Emergency Management disaster preparedness page:
National Hurricane Center hurricane preparedness page:
Orlando Sentinel’s Hurricane Survival Guide:
Channel 13 News Hurricane Center page:
WFTV (Channel 9) hurricane and tropical storm page:
Infamous 2004 hurricane season web resources: